Lutein is one of the most widely found carotenoids distributed in fruits and vegetables frequently consumed. Its presence in human tissues is entirely of dietary origin. Distribution of lutein among tissues is similar to other carotenoids but, along with zeaxanthin, they are found selectively at the centre of the retina, being usually referred to as macular pigments. Lutein has no provitamin A activity in man but it displays biological activities that have attracted great attention in relation to human health. Epidemiological studies have shown inconsistent associations between high intake or serum levels of lutein and lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, cataracts and age-related maculopathy. Also, lutein supplementation has provided both null and positive results on different biomarkers of oxidative stress although it is effective in increasing macular pigment concentration and in improving visual function in some, but not all, subjects with different eye pathologies. Overall, data suggest that whereas serum levels of lutein have, at present, no predictive, diagnostic or prognostic value in clinical practice, its determination may be very helpful in assessing compliance and efficacy of intervention as well as potential toxicity. In addition, available evidence suggests that a serum lutein concentration between 0·6 and 1·05 μmol/l seems to be a safe, dietary achievable and desirable target potentially associated with beneficial impact on visual function and, possibly, on the development of other chronic diseases. The use of lutein as a biomarker of exposure in clinical practice may provide some rationale for assessing its relationship with human health as well as its potential use within the context of evidence-based medicine.
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